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Learn About Chronic Cough

What Is Chronic Cough?

Chronic cough is a persistent cough that lasts eight weeks or longer, on some or most days.  While cough is a symptom of many lung diseases as well as some non-lung conditions, chronic cough often last much longer than eight weeks and continues despite treatment of any other condition and in some cases, when other diseases have been ruled out. 
There are three types of chronic cough:

  1. "Symptomatic" chronic cough is caused by an underlying disease and can be treated once the disease is diagnosed.
  2. "Refractory" chronic cough is caused by an underlying disease but does not respond to treatment.
  3. "Idiopathic" chronic cough has no known cause.

Terms to Describe Chronic Cough

  • Chronic: This means long term.  When diagnosing cough, there are three lengths:
    • "Acute cough" is one that lasts less than three weeks
    • "Subacute cough" is one that lasts three to eight weeks
    • "Chronic cough" lasts longer than eight weeks
  • Refractory: This means the cough hasn’t been controlled after multiple testing and specific treatments as well as having tried various over-the-counter treatments from your healthcare provider.
  • Idiopathic:  This means there is no known cause for your cough. You have been tested for lung diseases such as COPD or asthma, as well as health conditions such as allergies, sinus or digestive problems. You are not taking medications with a known side effect of coughing and you do not have a history of smoking.

What Causes Chronic Cough?

Some common causes of chronic cough include:

  • Lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma or pulmonary fibrosis.
  • Allergies, sinus problems and digestive issues (such as gastroesophageal reflux or GERD)
  • Medications
  • Smoking

Often when the cause of the cough has been identified, it can be successfully treated. But sometimes a chronic cough persists, either because treating the underlying cause is not effective or because your healthcare provider is unable to discover what is causing your continued coughing. 

    Page Last Updated: June 24, 2019

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